Wanting to include a hot springs experience in my day trip to Taipei’s Beitou district, I looked up places online and found an vast array of choices. Long Nai Tang Hot Springs seemed the most appealing as it was the oldest, dating back to 1896, and it had no website of its own. I only found it because a blogger had visited and wrote about his experience there using words like “local” and “authentic”. So, of course, I had to give it a try.
Naked! Towel! 100!
It is not the easiest place to find unless you can read Chinese. But the concierge at a hotel (that turned out to be right next door) pointed me in the right direction.
I was greeted by the most efficient older Chinese man, who responded to my “Ni hao” with “naked”. Clearly waiting for a response, I said, “naked is ok”. “Towel”, he continues. “I have my own towel”, I said pointing to my bag. “One hundred”, he replied holding out his hand. I paid the money and he said, “shoes” and pointed me towards the women’s section.
Entering the Room
Inside, I removed my clothes and placed them in one of the cubicles at the far wall. There was nothing glamorous or spa-like about this place and I liked it! The room, no larger than 30 feet by 10 feet, was basic with cement walls, faucets running with cold water about a foot from the floor and a few stacks of different colored plastic stools and plastic basins to the side. The actual hot springs was a shallow pool (about 3 feet deep) that was about 5 feet by 5 feet. I was the only foreigner there (there were about 10 of us in all) and I knew this would be an experience I would not soon forget.
Figuring It All Out
I watched for awhile trying to figure out how this all works. There were only two faucets on the wall and each faucet had about 1 1/2 feet of plastic tubing on them, bringing the water down to the floor. Two women sat on the incredibly low plastic stools, forcing their knees much higher than their behinds, filled up basins of water and scooped up water with their hands to splash different parts of their body. Although reminiscent of the bucket showers in Thailand and Cambodia, this way of bathing was still new.
Taking my cues from the women I grabbed a short red plastic stool and placed it in front of the faucet closest to me. I filled a basin full of very cold water realizing that I had never bathed like this before, not in that position. So when my basin was full, I began trying to do what I saw the women do but with much less precision. Finally, feeling like this would take forever, I decided to simply dump the entire basin of water over me. As soon as the freezing cold water hit my skin I was made painfully aware of why the other women hadn’t done that.
Hot Does Mean “Hot”
So finally the moment I had been waiting for…getting into the hot spring. I stepped down onto the first and only step into the pool and it felt scalding hot. I wondered if my skin could actually get burned from the extreme temperature of the water. Not wanting to chicken out now I continued and sat down at the bottom of the pool so that the water came to my neck.
Some of the women seemed to get a kick out of my reaction, smiling and laughing a bit to each other. One woman, after speaking to me in Mandarin and realizing that she was getting nowhere, got into the pool with me and got into the same position I was in and instructed me to put my arms out of the water. I tried it, mimicking her exactly, and I was surprised that it did indeed cool me down a bit. A short time later another woman motioned to me to get out and sit by her, indicating that it was time to get out. And so I sat naked with several Taiwanese women, relaxing and allowing the therapeutic effects of the hot spring to do their job.
The Old Man Smiled
I “showered” again, and this time with more precision. I even figured out how to wash my hair in that squatted position. I appeared outside again and smiled to the old man saying “xie xie”. Not saying a word, he smiled (for the first time), nodded and waved goodbye. From beginning to end I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience in the oldest hot springs in Beitou.